1st April, 2019
TOPIC– Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
- Despite progress made over the last 25 years in India-ASEAN ties, there remains immense scope for further growth in the relationship. Discuss.
Despite progress made over the last 25 years in India-ASEAN ties, there remains immense scope for further growth in the relationship. This is one of the most dynamic regions of the world today, and it is necessary for both India and ASEAN to actively collaborate to shape the so-called ‘Asian century’. A stronger partnership and enhanced cooperation should be prioritised by both sides if the full potential of this engagement is to be realised.
What need to be done?
- Opportunity to boost trade linkages: Further liberalisation in non-tariff measures would be important for India and ASEAN to realise the goal of $200 billion trade by 2022. AIFTA and abolishing of tariffs on a vast number of product lines is expected to give great boost to bilateral trade.
- Enhancing air connectivity along with maritime and road linkages can further create opportunities for employment and growth for India and ASEAN.
- Further, it will be beneficial to establish efficient regional value chains (RVCs) which will strengthen economic cooperation by expanding market access among ASEAN member countries. Well integrated regional value chains will lead to reduced cost of manufacturing and trading for the member countries.
- Mutually-beneficial engagement: Encouraging greater connections and collaboration between India and ASEAN in the areas of infrastructure, innovation and start-ups and digital economy would be mutually beneficial. This would create a multitude of touch points between the two and can potentially take this inherently vibrant relationship to the next level.
- Logistics is likely to play a prominent role in the growth of trade between India and ASEAN in the coming years.
- Building efficient institutional connectivity: It will be mutually beneficial to develop efficient transportation and infrastructure to enhance economic exchanges between India and ASEAN countries.
- Establishing trade facilitation measures will help to reduce the volume of documentation which obstructs the movement of goods and services between India and ASEAN. This requires abolishing non-tariff barriers and other restrictive institutional processes.
Greater political, economic and diplomatic engagements between India and ASEAN will pave the way for better trade ties with member ASEAN countries and also prepare them for global uncertainties.
Reference: Financial Express
TOPIC– Infrastructure: Energy
- What institutional, economic, technological, financial and collaborative steps must be taken to flip the ratio between fossils and renewables in the energy basket of emergent India?
Renewable energy is fast gaining focus for its potential to meet India’s growing energy needs. The ambitious target for renewable energy—175GW by 2022— with plans to expand further has spurred the market for renewables. The introduction of enabling policies and implementation plans for wind and solar, both at the national level and across various states, is a welcome development. Still, much more need to be done.
What can be done?
A few early steps must be taken by the new government to start this process.
- First, A general equilibrium macro model is required that captures linkages between the different components of energy (oil, gas, coal, renewables, nuclear, hydro, bio, non-commercial); nor between fuel usage, electricity, mobility, industry, and agriculture, on the one hand, and, ecology on the other.
- Second, we have to create the appropriate institutional structures of decision-making. The current structure of multiple “energy” ministries (petroleum, coal, renewables, power, atomic) should be collapsed into one omnibus Ministry of Energy and Environment. This will enable integrated decision making; it will also provide a platform for collaborative public-private and constructively “disruptive” innovation.
- Finally, the government should use its newly derived mandate to legislate an “Energy and Environment Security” Act. The purpose should be to engage the public in the larger debate on how to weaken if not break the current unhealthy nexus between economic growth, energy demand and environmental degradation. It should be to elevate the objective of wreaking an energy “discontinuity” into a national priority.
Reference: Indian Express
2nd April, 2019
TOPIC– Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure, devolution of powers and finances up to local levels and challenges therein.
- “What can empower our municipalities to a large extent is implementation of the 74th Constitutional Amendment (CAA).” Comment.
Lack of empowered local governance is one the biggest challenges facing Indian cities today. Despite over 20 years of the legislation (74th Constitutional Amendment Act) becoming effective, state governments have delayed, not implemented the CAA either in full spirit or at all to retain their powers on cities. As a result, urban local governments have to rely on state governments to fund even basic operational expenditure.
Problems facing our municipalities
- Because of the lack of implementation of 74th CAA, municipal corporations have a low threshold for expenditure. Besides, budgets are often not presented on time.
- The budgeting quality itself is questionable.
- Citizen’s participation in budget allocation is non-existent.
- Robust revenue streams such as stamp duties and entertainment taxes are not devolved fully to the urban local bodies.
- Since, multiple authorities are involved, the total resources spent on civic projects, such as building roads, is unclear.
Need to implement 74th Constitutional Amendment (CAA) in full spirit
- The 74th CAA if implemented well can help in creating better budgeting and accounting standards, gaining better control of municipal finances, granting more autonomy to municipal corporation to decide on its needs of manpower, and ushering other urban reforms.
- It can make our municipal corporations autonomous and efficient, empower our councillors and mayors, remove the multiplicity of agencies, make ward committees more effective and even attract better local talent to enter politics.
- Basically, the CAA shifts the control from the state to the city and enhances the city’s ability to use the funds as per its needs.
Implementation of the 74th CAA requires immense political will and a real understanding of the problems cities face. Unfortunately, despite being the breadwinners of the economy, Indian cities have seldom been able to assert themselves strongly enough.
Reference: Hindustan Times
TOPIC– Bilateral and regional groupings affecting India’s interests
- Can India use Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a platform to counter terrorism?
The recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) annual summit in Qingdao in China was special for India as the participants at the meeting exchanged views on ways to strengthen SCO cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
From India’s perspective, the Qingdao declaration’s focus on the fight against terrorism was a welcome development. The declaration condemned all forms of terrorism and underlined that interference in the domestic affairs of other states on the pretence of fighting terrorism and extremism was unacceptable.
Can SCO prove effective in countering terrorism?
- The challenges of an attempt by the SCO to actually “counter” terrorism are vast within the organisation, with glaring divergence in views and geo-political ambitions of the SCO members.
- The joint declaration released from Qingdao states a generalised condemnation of all types of terrorism.
- It offers cracks to accommodate individualistic lines of the member states. For instance, the declaration states, in relation to the Middle East, that it recognises the “growing threat from foreign terrorists who return to their countries to continue their terrorist and extremist activities within the SCO.” This gives cushion and precedence to Russia’s involvement in Syria, one that has been quietly backed by New Delhi.
- Closer to home, the document also states that the “interference in domestic affairs of other states under the pretence of combating terrorism is unacceptable, as well as the use of terrorist, extremist and radical groups for one’s own purposes”, a line that Islamabad has also, ironically, signed with a straight face. The fact that Pakistan is a participant to such a construct already significantly devalues any serious chance for the SCO leading any kind of resolute effort in the field as a single entity.
- Beijing till date opposes a ban on the Mumbai attacks mastermind Masood Azhar of UN-designated terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, and has blocked India’s bids to do the same at the UN. This, alone, showcases the false halo around the SCO’s counter-terrorism narratives and the challenges it faces.
- China’s aims against terrorism are limited to Islamist insurgencies in its restive Xinjiang province. A viable blueprint from China to counter terrorism yet remains to be seen.
- The SCO is ideologically and geo-politically too fractured to have any collective mechanisms on issues such as terrorism.
- There are no ideological bridges of commonality that, for example, exist in similar Western alliances, and the vastness of unresolved political issues between countries such as India and China and India and Pakistan makes counter-terror cooperation sound almost chimerical.
- At the end, even exercises such as the SCO counter-terrorism drills are expected to be nothing more than photo ops, while India’s genuine concerns such as Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism will in all probability only find New Delhi listening to its own echoes within the SCO.
3rd April, 2019
TOPIC– Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology
India and its bilateral relations
- The A-SAT test restores the India-China strategic balance. Discuss.
Recently, India conducted a successful test of its new Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile system. This makes India the fourth nation to possess — and test — anti-satellite capability, behind the U.S., Russia and China.
How the A-SAT test restores the India-China strategic balance
- In reality just as we developed nuclear weapon capability to principally deter China, the A-SAT capability also redresses the India-China strategic balance.
- The development suggests India, which has long struggled with a lethargic military-procurement process and outdated defense technology, is getting closer to sitting alongside China, Russia and the US as countries with the ability to disrupt enemy communications networks.
- China’s bullying tactics against weaker countries as well as global concerns about its threatening cyber capabilities require the development of counters by India.
- India has work ahead to do in developing non-kinetic ASAT technologies that China too is pursuing, as well as ABM technologies.
- In fact, India’s apparent success in conducting this anti-satellite test signals that its rising military intends to contest US supremacy in space. It will certainly help in weakening China’s capabilities in information warfare.
By conducting the A-SAT test, India has avoided repeating the folly of not conducting a nuclear weapon test in time to ensure that its nuclear weapon status was recognised under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). It will now be a key player in drafting any international law on preventing an arms race in outer space.
Reference: Hindustan Times
TOPIC– India and its neighbourhood relations
- The success of the Act East Policy will largely depend upon the on the extent to which the growth and development occurs in the North-Eastern Region of the country. Examine.
Recently, External Affairs Minister held an unusual meeting with the chief ministers of the northeastern region.
The meeting was convened to discuss ways to boost ties with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) countries in consultation with the northeastern States.
The meeting is a recognition that northeastern region lies at the centre of India’s ASEAN relations.
Significance of Northeastern region for Act East Policy
- Northeast India, considered remote and landlocked, shares 80 percent of its border with other countries, including China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
- Northeast has the uniqueness of being the only region having overland links with the ASEAN nations.
- Besides, it also enjoys close historical and cultural linkages which will help in strengthening ties with Southeast Asia.
- With a common lifestyle and common eating habits on the two sides of the eastern border, the products cultivated and grown in Northeast have the potential to find immediate takers in the countries across the Eastern borders.
What does India need to do?
- Connectivity is the most crucial factor in furthering India’s relations with Southeast Asia. Therefore, it is imperative to focus on improved airways, roadways, waterways, railways and information ways in this region.
- Starting of direct flights connecting the region with the capitals of South East Asian countries would play a vital role in making the region a lucrative destination for potential investors.
- There is an urgent need for early completion of the Asian Trilateral Highway as well as the reopening of the Stillwell Road upto Kunming in China and importance of connecting the waterways of Barak, Brahmaputra and Kushiyara rivers with Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh through dredging at an early date.
- Improved connectivity and infrastructure will lead to exponential growth in the tourism sector in the region in the days to come as North East India has a lot to offer on the tourism front. The region can also expect increased flow of patients from Southeast Asian.
- There should be arrangements for providing visa on arrival facilities in all the capitals of the region, particularly for visitors from the ASEAN region. This will encourage tourism and people-to-people connectivity.
- There should be improved access to International Sub-marine Fibre-optic Cable Network internet landing station at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh and the central government should take initiatives to make the region a hub of IT and ITES by providing fast internet connectivity.
- The present thrust by the central government to integrate development in the Northeast by enhancing its relationship with the ASEAN is a potent initiative.
- Greater connectivity and economic integration of India’s Northeast with its eastern neighbours was considered a key focus area for growth and development of the region.
- The External Affairs Minister’s initiative points to a sincere desire of the central government to push development in the Northeast through the Act East policy. However, the success of the efforts will depend on the nature of steps the governments (of both States and the Centre) takes in implementing the inputs of the meeting.
4th April, 2019
TOPIC: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
- There are many legitimate questions about the proposed Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) scheme, but the fundamental soundness of the idea should not be in doubt. Discuss.
Evidence from dozens of cash transfer programmes around the world speaks resoundingly in favour of such schemes as a tool for sustainable poverty alleviation. There are many other aspects of this scheme that prove that India was in need of some such solution to end the problem of poverty.
Benefits of the scheme
- Evaluations of cash transfers show that they usually lead to large increases in household consumption, improve health and education outcomes for beneficiaries and their children, and improve women’s agency and empowerment when paid to women. At the same time, common fears, such as that money will be squandered on alcohol or cigarettes turn out to be largely unfounded.
- Neither does handing money to the poor make them reluctant to work or be entrepreneurial. Rather, behavioural economists have found that poverty itself makes it harder for people to do things like plan for a future beyond immediate survival. It’s hard to be ambitious on an empty stomach. By freeing people’s minds from having to fret about their next meal, a cash transfer can enable entrepreneurship or more productive employment.
- The extra income would help them look at other aspects of their lives that need attention. It has been seen across the world that schemes like this have pushed up participation in schools. They have used the money productively. They have invested in activities like livestock, health and education.
By helping parents invest in the next generation, cash transfers strike at the heart of persistent poverty. Incorporating small behavioural interventions makes the money go even further. If a programme like NYAY takes experimentation, design and evidence seriously, its impact on the lives of India’s poor could be transformative.
Reference: The Hindu
5th April, 2019
TOPIC: Issues related to health
- Health literacy can be used as a tool for the empowerment of people by their own participation, not just through the intervention of doctors. Comment.
Health literacy is the capacity to obtain process and understand healthcare information and services needed to make appropriate decisions in the areas of wellness and patient care. There is certainly a need for government intervention in this area. Proper strategies and policies must be framed to address health literacy.
Repercussions of low health literacy
- Low health literacy, on the other hand, has been found to be associated with lesser use of preventive services, and excessive use of emergency services, with high costs and dismal outcomes.
- Besides increased hospitalisation, patients with poor health literacy have high incidence of adverse drug reactions and nearly two-fold higher risk of death.
- Low health literacy is associated with failure to seek timely medical help, lower rate of vaccination in children, increased burden of sexually transmitted diseases in the youth, the inability to interpret and follow up with prescribed medication for the elderly and consequently higher morbidity.
Why is there a need for health literacy?
- It is one of the factors that lead to the acquisition of knowledge, positive attitude, self-efficacy, positive health behaviour, and better survival.
- It gives a sense of control and confidence to individuals to gain access to and understand aspects of health promotion for themselves, their families and communities.
- It further helps in mobilising communities to address the social, economic and environmental determinants of health.
- Health literacy is critical to the empowerment of communities against emerging threats such as from the pandemic influenza, climate change and non-communicable diseases. Similarly, for patients suffering from conditions like acute coronary syndrome or severe infections, those with lower health literacy are more likely to die than those empowered with it, studies have revealed.
Better government policies can, thus, be drafted for further improvement in health services. The school and college curriculum must include ‘body literacy’ from the primary classes onwards to sow the seeds of health literacy in the young minds, so that they grow into healthy adults. Reducing the availability of junk food, banning the promotion of unhealthy food, highlighting the perils of obesity and excessive use of mobile phones, and sensitising the media to promote health literacy are essential.
Reference: The Tribune
6th April, 2019
TOPIC– Science and Technology
- What is DNA Fingerprinting? Describe the process of DNA Fingerprinting. What is its use?
DNA Fingerprinting is a technique, for identification of an individual by examining their DNA. It is also known as DNA Profiling. It identifies the individual on the basis of a unique part of the DNA which repeats throughout the genome known as Micro Satellite. This term was first used by Alec Jeffry. Blood, bones, hair with root, saliva, semen, teeth, and tissue can also be used to study the DNA.
DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic acid, is the basic building block of life. This component in cells contains all the information about an organism and it also helps transfer the characteristics to the next generation. The DNA of each individual is composed of Bases [Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G), and Cytosine (C)], Sugar and a Phosphate. Two bases link to each other using hydrogen bonds to form base pairs.
How is it done?
There are certain steps involved in DNA Fingerprinting. These are:
Purification and isolation of the DNA: The DNA is isolated from the available sample. Each type of sample has a specific protocol for isolation.
Digestion: Restriction endonucleases are bacterial enzymes that cleave duplex DNA at specific target sequences with the production of defined fragments. These enzymes can be purchased from the many manufacturers of biotechnology products. It results in the formation of mutisized fragments.
Poly Acrylamide Gel Electrophoresis: One small DNA fragment can become a thousand to million copies. This amplified DNA sample then undergoes a technique called gel electrophoresis, which splits it into different visible bands.
Blotting: The desired DNA is transferred on a piece of nylon or some other medium and are split into single strands.
Auto Radiography: The fragments undergo autoradiography in which they are exposed to DNA probes—pieces of synthetic DNA that are made radioactive and that bound to the mini satellites. A piece of X-ray film is then exposed to the fragments, and a dark mark is produced at any point where a radioactive probe is attached. The resultant pattern of marks could then be analyzed.
Use of DNA Fingerprinting
- For criminal identification
- To resolve disputes of maternity /paternity
- To identify mutilated remains
- In cases of exchange of babies in hospital wards,
- In forensic wildlife (The arrangement of the nucleotides is unique to any living form (except identical twins) be animals, plants, or microbes.)
- In identification of missing individuals.
In July, 2017 the law commission of India drafted a Bill for the use and regulation of DNA-based technology called the Human DNA Profiling Bill. As there are currently no legal mechanisms for identifying missing persons and victims of disasters, the new Bill seeks to regulate human DNA profiling and establish standard procedures for DNA testing.